Finding Style Serendipity in the Circular Economy
Shopping is fun. However, if you stop to think about how your clothes were made, by whom, with what materials, and where they end up once you’re done, it really takes the shine off that new pair of jeans on the sale rack. If you need convincing to buy less and participate in the circular economy (aka buy pre-owned items), there is much more detail at the end of this post. Now, let’s get back to how shopping can be fun.
Growing up in Northern California, going to thrift shops was one of my favourite pastimes. I would go to thrift stores in Berkeley with my coolest friend, waiting for style serendipity to strike. She had the unique ability to take other people’s castaways and make an original outfit that fit perfectly. Today, she’s got an asymmetrical haircut, tattoos, and can put together a mean ensemble for Burning Man. She was always the Phish Food to my vanilla ice cream.
How do we decide when something is vintage instead of used? Or what belongs in thrift stores or charity shops instead of in a consignment or resale store? Or better yet, an antique instead of just old?
I recently deemed that I needed a pair of black work trousers and wanted to see if I could fill this need in the circular economy (aka, through thrift stores). I decided to start high end, with a luxury resale store on Gloucester Road called The Exchange. The store contained absolutely beautiful items; some of them never worn. There were no black trousers to be had, as that would be deemed too boring for a place like this. I tried on an Alexander McQueen dress that made me feel nothing short of fabulous and walked out having purchased a Diane Von Furstenburg wrap dress. New, it would have cost over 400 GBP. As a last season item at Bichester Village (a designer outlet village over an hour outside of London), it would have cost about 175 GBP. I walked out with mine for 145 GBP, so it was fairly priced.
Continuing with my pursuit of black trousers, I popped into the two charity stops on the high street near my home. Both shops were small, so it was easy to take a quick look at the inventory. It also seems I have a neighbour who is both my size and shares my respect for Hugo Boss workwear. Mission accomplished with an 18 GBP pair of Hugo Boss trousers that looked as though they had never been worn.
Sum total: thrift store shopping is hit or miss. Then again, so is shopping more broadly, and it’s infrequent we actually ever ‘need’ something urgently. Going to a local charity shop may arguably be more convenient than a full blown trip to the mall. In a world where fast fashion is popular, partially due to the price, thrift shops live up to their name.
If you’ve got keen eye, it seems possible to stumble upon a deal in a standard charity or thrift shop. At the higher-end resale and consignment shops, you’re more likely to get a fair price than to find a bargain, given that the owners are well versed on the brands they are willing to sell.
The Exchange felt more like the shopping I’m used to, with a tidy dressing room and an attendant. At the charity shops, the employees were more concerned with limiting the number of items I took into the dressing room than they were on recommending another cute item in my size. The idea that I might find the diamond in the rough gave me the thrill of the chase and transported me back to being a teen in Berkeley.
Do a quick Google search for ‘consignment,’ ‘vintage clothing,’ or ‘thrift stores’ near you. The search I did preparing me for my shopping excursions produced tons of hits! There are a also number of eCommerce sites that provide access to pre-loved clothes if you don’t have shops nearby. For links to several businesses around London, see below:
The Exchange London, Luxury Reseller, Gloucester Road
The Dresser, Second-Hand Designer Resale eCommerce
The best designer resale sites (Harpers Bazaar)
London’s Best Thrift Stores (Time Out)
Six of the best high-end vintage shops London has to offer (The Culture Whisperer)
Hardly Ever Worn It, UK eCommerce
Remember how I said there would be information at the bottom of the post about the fashion industry? Read it and weep (quite literally):
Why Fast Fashion Needs to Slow Down (UN Environment)
Fast Fashion is Harming the Planet, MPs Say (BBC)
Environmental Impact of Fashion (Wikipedia)
The Environmental Costs of Fast Fashion (Independent)
How Much Is Your Fast-Fashion Habit Costing The Environment (Huffington Post)
The True Cost, Documentary Film
Other resources for curious minds: